What Can You Learn From Pete Carroll?
Lessons for Your Career From a Super Bowl Coach
Football is the most popular spectator sport in the U.S. based on television ratings and the near-holiday status conferred on the Super Bowl each year. There even was an attempt to make the Monday after the Super Bowl a holiday to let the nation recover from its enthusiastic pursuits on Super Bowl Sunday.
Head coach Pete Carroll is one of the most familiar names and faces in the game, especially since leading the Seattle Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XLVIII, the losing Super Bowl XLIX the following year to the Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots. Coaches like Belichick and Carroll did not achieve their success overnight. In the case of Carroll, tracking the ups and downs of his career draws attention to several important lessons that can help in any field—not just football.
Carroll worked as an assistant coach at five different universities from 1973–1983 before spending another decade as an assistant in the National Football League job with the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, and New York Jets. Those 20 years as an assistant coach in the collegiate and professional ranks was an opportunity for Carroll to learn and perfect his craft.
Are you willing to spend years in dogged pursuit of your career goal without becoming frustrated and pursuing a different line of work? Carroll certainly was.
Carroll was fired from his first head coaching job in the NFL after only one season. In 1994, he led the New York Jets to a 6-10 record. Can you imagine spending 20 years to land your dream job only to lose it in one year? How would you react?
Carroll picked himself up and landed the defensive coordinator position with the San Francisco 49ers, rebuilding his resume over two seasons and being hired as head coach of the New England Patriots for the 1997 season. He was fired after just three seasons, despite a 27-21 record. Despite this setback, Carroll persevered and changed his career prospects by leaving the NFL.
If you prove yourself to be valuable at one level, you may get a chance to prove yourself at a different level. Carroll's next coaching gig was with the University of Southern California, and leaving the NFL could have been viewed as a setback. Carroll was not even USC's first choice. After a tough first season (6-6), however, Carroll hit his stride and led the Trojans to seven consecutive seasons of 11 or 12 wins. After one more year at USC, he was offered the head coaching job with the Seattle Seahawks that he has held since 2010, as of 2019.
It was Carroll's tenure at USC that allowed him a third chance to be an NFL head coach. Leaving your current industry or job for something in a different field or at a different level may open you to new opportunities and even enhance your resume to the point that you are able to land a great job back in your preferred industry. It worked for Carroll and resulted in his hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in 2014.
Making necessary adjustments is important to success in any industry, and Carroll has shown that willingness to adapt. The plays and the schemes that worked in the 1970s when he began his coaching career are not likely to be as effective today, and motivating professional football players is much different than motivating college players.
Carroll has learned lessons from his years of experience—including failures—and used his knowledge to improve his chances for success. He was a different coach in 2014 when he won a Super Bowl than he was 20 years before when he was fired from the Jets. Learn from this and be willing to adapt. If something you've tried in the past has proven to be unsuccessful, figure out why and take a new approach.
Head football coaches need to make quick decisions in high-pressure situations, and Carroll knows as well as any coach what it is like to make the wrong call. In 2015, when the Seahawks were one yard away from almost certain victory and second consecutive championship, Carroll chose a passing play instead of a running play, leading to an interception and a 28-24 loss to the Patriots.
In addition to losing the game, Carroll was widely criticized for the play call. Carroll took responsibility for the call, never blaming the players or his assistant coaches. This is a trait that all leaders need. Employees who see that their boss has their back and won't throw them under the bus—even when things are not going well—are more likely to be loyal to that boss.